Tokyo seen through visionary eyes
With great anticipation audiences attended Offscreen Film Festival’s opening-film Tokyo! (the screening sold out). Understandably, as the movie is a quite ambitious project featuring three prominent directors of contemporay cinema, each stituating their unique tale in modern day Tokyo, one of the most enigmatic metropolitan cities on earth.
In retrospect, it’s amazing how Tokyo! manages to be such a solid and coherent experience, given the fact it’s a collaboration between three very distinguishable directors, including atmosphere & content that shifts from loveliness and melancholy over drama and thrills to sheer absurdity and plain weirdness. A satirical tribute to life more than ordinary in a city bigger than life.
Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) opens the film with his “Interior Design” story. (based on a short story by graphic novelist Gabrielle Bell). A universal story about a young couple moving to the big city, having their own hopes and dreams. Slowly but surely, Gondry turns this into a surreal parable about fitting in, deciding what you want to be, and losing or finding your identity in the process. At least that’s what I got out of it. The character drawings came form the heart, purposely making us care for the couple. At first Gondry puts them in every day, recognisable situations (move your car in the morning, our you’ll get an expensive ticket), but gradually the story takes a twist into the weird and bizarre. Being a great visual director, Gondry seasons his segment with some staggering effects, almost like if J-Horror went on a French acid trip and got all… curious (for lack of a better word).
Leos Carax (Pola X) was the director I was least familiar with, yet his segment “Merde” might have left the biggest impact on me, because of its blatant, humorous tendencies. Considerably approached from a more light-hearted angle, it tells the tale of an incredibly weird “creature-man” emerging from the sewers to run amok in Tokyo streets. Harassing pedestrians, terrifying them and eventually blowing them up with grenades from a left-over military supply he found beneath the city. But after he’s caught by the authorities and the media jump on it, that’s when the real fun begins. Creature-man’s name is Merde (which is French for “shit”) and he utters a ludicrous, spastic language nobody but a French lawyer seems to understand. Furthermore, Merde doesn’t seem to like Japanese people. Carax‘s story makes up for some hilarious insanity, but the most pleasant surprise was that he crafted an original homage to (and parody on) Gojira (Japan’s original Godzilla monster movie). Even Akira Ifukube‘s original, iconic musical score was reproduced as well as the monster’s famous roar. Fans wil love this.
Joon-ho Bong (The Host) brings a story about alienation and reclusion in the movie’s final segment, “Shaking Tokyo”. Teruyuki is a ‘hikikomori’, the equivalent of a modern day hermit with agoraphobia issues, and fills his days with reading, ordering take-out food and falling asleep on the toilet. It took him a decade to reach this state of dubious perfection. But one day, when he coincidentally makes first eye contact with a beautiful pizza delivery girl, his life of seclusion will never be the same again. His world becomes all shook up, quite literally even, as eartquakes seem to put a metaphorical emphasis on his experience. Bong‘s segment becomes all the more interesting when the girl suddenly stops delivering pizza’s and Teruyuki has to overcome his fears with leaving the house and going on a search for her. While Bong keeps the mystery of “Shaking Tokyo” intact, in the end his segment does lack a satisfying denouement. As a viewer, it’s something you’ll just have to like or not.
All three segments actually lack some form of conclusion or defining nature, but it’s clear that was intended and part of all three director’s visions (like the trailer suggests, it’s their take on themes like “transformation, “anarchy” and “rebirth”, respectively). As I hinted already when talking about Gondry‘s segment, Tokyo! leaves a lot open for interpretation, on the one hand demanding some efforts from the viewers towards the resolution of matters, but also making the stories all the more intriguing. The over-all tone of the film remains intact, partly also because Carax‘ more exuberant segment was presented as the middle section of the film. Tokyo! turned out a very stylish and ambiguous anthology, grâce à the involvement of three contemporary directors leaving their own distinctive trademarks on it.